Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My First Birchbox

So, I've recently started to be a little more interested in being a bit more professional and put together when it comes to my look. I've long been the "roll out of bed and run a brush through my hair" type, but it's not been working for me for a while.

To that end, I've been trying to get some new products in my routine, but maybe not just the cheapest thing on the shelf all the time anymore. I'm still not really on the super expensive bandwagon either, but you know, you usually get what you pay for (to a point).

The problem is that I've been having a lot of trouble lately with buying a new full sized product, and having it not work for one reason or another. I have extremely sensitive skin, and just complicated issues with everything (partially because I haven't care about it for so long).

Enter Birchbox. A friend of mine had been subscribing to it for a while, and I admit I've been intrigued.

If you don't want to watch the video, basically you pay a monthly subscription fee ($10) and each month you get a box in the mail containing a set of samples based on the profile that you put in on their website. If you like a product, you can easily purchase it from their online store and you get points towards purchases too.

I finally decided to take the plunge and my first box actually showed up on my birthday. I was worried that it would be mostly samples I wouldn't care for or didn't want to try. But instead, all but one were things I was very interested in.

I've been using the Number 4 Super Comb Prep & Protect, which I like because even though I haven't used my blow dryer in about four years (and that was to try to dry a book that had gotten wet) my hair is pretty damaged and dry. So far, I've quite liked the results. It's a very, very subtle difference but that's what I like about it.

Tonight I tried the Benefit Hello Flawless Oxygen Wow brightening makeup for the first time. It was actually really great, I have a lot of problems with most foundation because of my dry skin and while this wasn't perfect, it was still better than most things I've tried of late. I don't think I could use it every day as an all-over foundation, but it certainly will work for the special occasions very light makeup that I'd like. The only problem is that it's kind of far outside of my price range for the full size bottle.

I haven't tried it yet, but I'm also excited about the 100% Pure Nourishing Body Cream, my samples are coconut but the Honey Almond also sounds fabulous. With my hyper-sensitive skin, a cream that's completely organic is probably my best bet.

I know this is just one box, but I definitely think I got more than $10 worth of samples out if it and they were all things I wanted to try (except the Tan Towel, I really don't have a big desire to fake tan). They also have already sent me two or three coupon codes, and their website is full of sales and gifts with purchase. I think it's perfect for somebody like me who is just getting their feet wet with this whole beauty product thing.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Jennifer's Body

There were three reasons I was intrigued by Jennifer's Body. First, because I actually quite liked Juno and wanted to see more by Diablo Cody. Second, because I'd read reviews talking about how it was an interesting horror genre take on female friendships - specifically toxic female friendships. And third, because I'd read that Megan Fox actually does a good job in it, suggesting her less than stellar acting in the Transformers films is perhaps not the fault of the actress herself.

But to be honest, none of those things were enough to convince me to see it until recently, about four years after it was released. Really, it's a good thing I didn't go to see it in theaters because then I would have been disappointed. As it was, I was just mildly grumpy.

All of the reasons I wanted to see the film did turn out to be true. It is a movie about toxic female friendships, and that isn't something that's been mined properly quite yet, outside of perhaps Heathers and Mean Girls which became classics precisely because so many women recognized where they were coming from. And Megan Fox actually does do a pretty good job, partially because she was so appropriately cast, but it definitely bolsters the idea that perhaps the problem is directors not asking much of her instead of her not being any good. I've not seen enough of her movies to make a stronger hypothesis than that.

And the movie did have Diablo Cody's trademark humor and quirky dialogue, so there was that. The problem is that I'm afraid that either she didn't get as many revisions as she needed or perhaps Jason Reitman was able to give notes/make changes to bolster her strengths. Because at the end of the day, Jennifer's Body really fails. There are just too many balls in the air, and too much that either isn't set up properly, or is set up and then fumbled when it comes time for pay off. It just isn't structured well and it's trying too hard or maybe not hard enough, I couldn't figure it out.

For example, the basic plot of the movie is there is a band that wants to sacrifice a virgin to make a deal with a demon for fame and fortune. They assume that Jennifer is a virgin and sacrifice her, but since she's actually not, things go wrong and she gets possessed by the demon instead.

But since the sacrifice wasn't a virgin, then surely something terrible goes wrong with that, right? It's the core of the inciting incident, that they aren't providing the right thing for the ritual. What are the consequences for them? Nothing. Not a thing, they get their fame and fortune because it doesn't actually matter for the ritual, really.

And that's just one example in a movie full of things like that, where the writing just isn't as strong as it could have been. It's like a comedian trying out new material who gets a couple awkward chuckles from the audience and decides that's good enough and keeps using it.

In the end, the movie is at least a horror film focused on women, directed and written by women, so I at least am happy about that. And really, it is better than quite a few horror films that I've seen but the bar isn't all that high there. It wasn't a waste of my time, but it isn't something that I would tell other people to watch either. Let's just wait for the next one, I'm sure somebody could take this theme and make something amazing with it eventually.

Arrow: Season One

I admit, I really wasn't interested in watching Arrow when it first came on. Everybody was basically saying "it's like Smallville but for Green Arrow!"

Well, I didn't really particularly love Smallville by the end of it, and I never got into Green Arrow except for his connection to Black Canary, who I loved because of Birds of Prey. So the show was about six weeks into it's run when a weird thing happened - my parents were watching an episode while I was home visiting and it was actually kind of good. I really wasn't expecting that.

Lucky for me it was an episode that was mostly stand-alone, and didn't tie into the greater mythology too much.

But what this episode did do was set up Ollie and Diggle, and that was all it really took for me. I don't know that I can pinpoint what it was, but Diggle was immediately my favorite character. And Oliver, with his five years stranded on an island, had something going for him beyond "rich guy with Daddy issues." I mean, I love Batman but only Batman can get away with being Batman, everybody else should take a deep breath and find a new schtick in my opinion.

Anyway, so this random mid-season episode was good enough that I sat down and actually started watching. And while it never became a show that we actually made the time to watch when it aired, we kept up with it On Demand. Sometimes it could be really predictable and I would find myself rolling my eyes and saying "of COURSE." But sometimes it actually surprised me, and in a good way.

It's not a perfect show, there are some things they really need to fix. Thea is one. Io9's recaps like to harp on her brattiness and she deserves it. She is really bratty, and her character just does so many things that make no sense. Every time I think the writers are figuring her out she does something ridiculous and selfish and petulant and I just can't warm up to her as much as I want to.

And the love triangle of the first season really annoyed me because I hate love triangles more than almost anything else in all of fiction. But they didn't resolve that the way I expected them to, so kudos for that.

Also, Moira, Oliver's mother, ended up being more interesting and complex than I ever would have expected. Susanna Thompson does a really good job, and somehow manages to outshine John Barrowman in some of their scenes.

Overall, the show is just refreshingly different from a lot of what's going on with comic book adaptations these days, especially ones based on DC comics. It's realistic without having that "dark and gritty for the sake of being dark and gritty and cynical" feel to it. The characters are more complex than you expect, and let's face it they spend plenty of time recognizing that Stephen Amell is a good looking young man. Actually, in general the show spends more time focusing on the handsome men (because let's face it - David Ramsey is pretty nice too) than the women. It's one of the first times where I've seen something comic book based that actually seems rather evenly done towards both male and female fans. I mean, sure, Katie Cassidy is gorgeous, but she's not running around half naked on a regular basis and every time she's been in danger she's actually been a good fighter and taken care of herself quite well under the circumstances. Which makes sense if they get around to making her Black Canary in season two.

In general, the show is probably one of the best live action comic book adaptations to be on TV. It's got some cheesy moments, more than it's fair share really, but it still pulls it together through a focus on character and relationships. Who cares about how stupid the Vertigo storyline got, it was about Ollie dealing with his relationship with Thea in the end. I think it's worth watching, especially if you're like me and not too hung up on Green Arrow's actual canon (like anybody can keep up with comic book canon).

This is the highest praise I can give them: I actually wouldn't mind if they introduced Barbara Gordon sometime soon. I'd like to see what they did with it. Hopefully they'd go for her stint as Oracle, and she would geek out with Felicity and they would save Ollie from some bad guy he couldn't defeat on his own.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Product Review: SleepPhones

I've got an issue that's probably not really rare - when I got married, I was used to listening to music to help me sleep. My husband was used to silence. There's not really a happy medium or a good compromise with this particular problem.

Or at least, for the first years of my marriage there wasn't a solution. But then a year or so ago I saw an ad for SleepPhones. I think most people who like to listen to music have been annoyed by how uncomfortable headphones can be, and when you're trying to sleep and the other person in the room needs total silence? It's just not going to work. But I was still wary. For one, the price tag was a bit high, since I'm usually pretty rough on headphones and don't like spending a ton of money on things unless they're going to last a long time.

But the other thing was that I just didn't believe that they would actually work and be comfortable. There had to be a catch. The headphone part was still hard plastic, or they still leaked sound and your partner could hear. Something. This was too good to be true.

Well, lately I've been dealing with some pretty severe insomnia, and I've been using a white noise app to try to help me get into a mood for sleep if I was trying to get some rest when the husband wasn't around. But this wasn't helping me at night when I was supposed to be trying to sleep. Thanks to a Groupon sale, I decided to finally take the plunge and purchase some SleepPhones. I got mine in grey.

I was a tad worried when they came in and I tried them, because my head is probably oddly sized. The headband fit great (I got the one size fits most) but the actual speakers don't quite hit my ears right. I can get them lined up with a bit of work, but I wasn't exactly pleased about that.

But I've changed my mind entirely now. I've gotten used to getting the band settled in the right place, and I've tested them with music, my white noise app, and at multiple volumes. There's almost no sound bleeding through to disturb anybody. Apparently the only noise that comes through is the bird's chirping selection on my app.

I don't move around much in my sleep, so having the cord attached doesn't bother me too much but I could see how it would be a problem for some people. But they really are comfortable to sleep in, and not too painful even if you sleep on your side with your ear mashed into the pillow. Actually, I'm wearing them at regular times too now because normal headphones often give me headaches and these don't.

If you toss and turn too much, they have a wireless option, but it's much more expensive. There are also replacement parts so you don't have to buy a whole new set if you're like me and destined to break something in a year or so.

Overall, I've had my SleepPhones for about a month and I wholeheartedly recommend them. They're definitely worth the price, even if you can't find a sale like I did.

Pacific Rim

Somehow, I managed to know next to nothign about Pacific Rim before it came out. I hadn't really seen most of the trailers, and mostly all I knew was that there were giant robots and giant monsters.

To be honest, while that sounded fun it didn't sound like something I was going to go out of my way for, unless I just really wanted to go to the movies and that was the best thing playing. But a special trip to see it wasn't in the works or anything.

Until my friends went to see it. This is the power of word of mouth - so many people I knew were so in love with this movie, and people who's opinions I respect. So basically I decided that I had to see it on the second weekend before I learned anything else about it. No spoilers.

It was a really good decision, because I really liked this movie. Honestly, yes, it is a movie about giant robots and giant monsters (called kaiju, if you're a fan of Japanese monster movies and Godzilla you already know this term). Yes, that is the center of the story, and also at the center is the fact that it is a film for, by, and about people who just seriously really love giant robots and kaiju.

But there is so much more going on than that, and that's what elevates it past other recent giant robot/sci-fi action pictures. Is it the plot? No, not so much, the plot is kind of paint by numbers and more than slightly predictable (sorry guys). But I didn't care, not because the action or effects were awesome, they were.

It was because the characters were just that darn great. And how many times have I wanted to stand on rooftops and yell at Hollywood that it's the characters that make or break their projects? Raleigh manages not to be the angsty emotionally damaged and thus closed off and cranky reluctant hero. He pays some lip service to not getting back into a jaeger (the giant robots) but at the end of the day he's got a good reason and he doesn't really hem and haw. He changes his mind and decided to go fight again and then he just does. Thank goodness for small favors.

Idris Elba is always amazing, but his role as the leader of the jaegar program gives him plenty to work with and he does what he does best. A lot of reviews are talking about how great the wacky scientist sidekicks are, and they are pretty great but didn't steal the movie for me or anything. Even the cocky pilot who thinks he's God's gift and the only one who can save the world who is destined to be taken down a peg by the reluctant hero is a bit more complex and interesting than he seems at first. And del Toro actually took the time to make a racially and ethnically diverse cast, because these people are saving the WORLD, not just America. What a concept, having representatives from all the nations bordering the Pacific? Who would have thought.

But the movie belongs to Mako Mori, and we all know it. I've seen a few people arguing about how they wish that she was the lead instead of Raleigh and I'm not entirely sure which movie they were watching. She's not a supporting character, so what else is she but one of the two lead characters? Even her fans are having a hard time breaking out of years of Hollywood conditioning. Yes, Raleigh spends part of the movie trying to convince people how great she is but there's no "but she's a woman" coming from any single person in the entire film. It's the experienced pilot urging people to give the young hot shot a chance, and that narrative is age old if you make it two men instead.

Quite frankly, I haven't seen a female character this good on a movie screen in a very, very long time. So many weaker writers and directors have felt like when you put a woman in an action movie you have to make sure to make her more feminine so that we don't forget she's a woman or something. We skip right over that here, and if anybody is being the more "feminine" character, emotionally, it's Raleigh.

And I can't wrap up this review without mentioning Mana Ashida, who plays young Mako in an extended flashback. She's barely even in the movie and she is, without a doubt, the most memorable actor in the entire thing. She is so raw and so emotional and so compelling that if you don't feel for her then your heart must have been pulled out or something. She was eight years old, and I can't even imagine how good she's going to be when she's older. That girl is going to rule Japanese cinema.

Overall, the basic takeaway from Pacific Rim is that it's a daring movie that tried a lot of things. It's got very few big name actors in it, and they're mostly supporting characters. It's not America-centric and most of the action takes place in China instead. Del Toro even has said that he made sure to establish that in most of the big destructive action sequences that all the civilians are safe and the streets are clear so you can enjoy the explosions without guilt about innocent bystanders. It's like a movie about world peace with giant monsters and robots, and it has a racially diverse cast with a woman in one of the lead action roles. And it's based on an original screenplay and a new idea the revitalizes a beloved older genre. Even if the movie wasn't any good, it would be worth your attention just for all those things.

But the truth is, it is really good. It's fun, it's funny, the actors are good, and the characters are amazing. It's going to be a tragedy if this doesn't earn some more money at the box office because everybody involved should be rolling in cash just for trying something new and succeeding.

Project Runway Seasons Ten and Eleven

I know, this is actually all old news. But I thought I should probably address this.

This blog really grew out of my desire to talk about certain aspects of Project Runway, way back in Season Two. Basically I wanted to talk about the dresses as works of art rather than fashion, and I started doing recaps. I doggedly kept with it when I could but that dropped off quite a while back, sadly, because I went to grad school and the workload was too much.

Part of me thought I'd get back to it one day, recapping each episode. That was the plan many times. Especially when I started watching season ten. To be honest, my enthusiasm for the show had started to wane, and I was just feeling like I wasn't going to have anything to say. But I dutifully watched the show each week with my best friend, and I slowly started to get excited again. All-Stars had, quite frankly, really dimmed my enthusiasm but this cast was really bringing it back. Sure, there was a bit too much classic reality tv show drama (Andrea, my goodness, Andrea) but there was also a good crop of actually interesting designers.

Even if I didn't go for her aesthetic at all, Buffi Jashanmal was fun and interesting and had a distinct point of view. Kooan Kosuke was fascinating and fun, and to be honest I don't blame him for leaving the show because the judges clearly had no idea what he was about simply because he was being a little more daring than fashion likes to be. More than once I felt like they were being culturally insensitive, but that's a long rant for another day.

Even Gunnar Deatherage, who started the season being one of the most singly obnoxious designers the show had ever seen ended up warming my cold heart and making me upset when he was auf'd. The way he treated his client for the "real women" challenge was a revelation and a lesson to all other designers that have appeared on this show (and other designers in general, and especially Ven, take some notes jerkface).

And at the end of the day, I loved Dmitry, Fabio, and Melissa and could have been happy with any of them winning the final title and I won't spoil who does, because I absolutely think that this season is one you should catch up with if you missed it. There was a lot of real talent and real skill on the part of the designers, and the "characters" that you thought you hated, you ended up loving and the favorites at the start were not so rosy by the end.

The biggest problem was the judges. By the time they started blasting Elana for designing a dress for the Rockettes that looked exactly like the dress they were given for inspiration (not saying she copied, saying she had no taste) I realized they were just done. I have no idea how they still have careers in fashion, and I got sick of hearing them talk. I watched for the designers and tried to pretend the judges weren't there.

So I was actually thrilled when they announced that Michael Kors was leaving and Zac Posen was taking his place. If they also replaced Nina, perhaps the show would be as good as it was in the beginning, before the two of them had gotten so full of their ego from being on a successful show that they forgot what they were doing. Okay, I'm a little bitter.

So I started watching season eleven. I was ready for it to get better, I was on board and ready to fangirl again. But then they failed again with selecting the designers, and every week I got more and more disgusted with this show I used to love. Nina was still ridiculous, but thankfully Zac Posen was not afraid to shoot her down (and Heidi was getting bolder too). My favorite moment was when Zac Posen pointed out that he was the only judge who had actually BEEN to an American prom and had no clue what everybody else was talking about, especially Nina, because prom is about gowns and not short skirts. Preach it, Zac Posen, I've been yelling that at my TV for years.

But the designers, oh man the designers. The team challenge thing didn't really make an impact because the actual people they chose were so poor in character and were so unlovable that I barely could tune in every week. The best example for me was when the editors took a clip of Michelle talking about how much she loathed Patricia, followed it with the two of them getting paired together, and then a clip of Patricia happily talking about how she's looking forward to working with Michelle. This is the two-face, back stabbing reality show crap that Project Runway always skirted on the edge of and usually didn't dip into.

Amanda, Layana, and Michelle formed a mean girls clique that could not be beaten for cattiness and ego and every week I deeply wished they would go home simply because they were not nice people. I know everybody likes to talk about "the editing," but listen, I know editing. I know how it works, it's actually part of my JOB to know in detail what is and isn't possible with editing. The three of them were not painted as bad guys or villains by the editors, the show actually seemed to see nothing wrong with what they were doing. They were practically shown as heroes, I'm almost positive the producers were convinced we would hate Patricia instead, and they definitely wanted Kate to be disliked even though she clearly didn't deserve it from what they were showing.

I was two weeks behind on the show when somebody spoiled me about who had won before I could watch the finale, and that was the final blow for me. I actually have not bothered to watch season twelve, and I'm pretty sure that I won't. Season eleven took a show I had loved for so long, a show I was rejuvenated about and dying to see more of, and killed everything about it. The producers, the editors, and the designers all reveled in the exact same type of person that I don't like in real life or on my television shows, and if that's what the show is about now then I'm sorry but I'm done.

It makes me so sad to say that, but basically this is me saying I hope that everybody enjoyed my PR posts before because I don't think there will be any more unless somebody I really love ends up on All-Stars next season.

I'll just stick with Top Chef then, I guess.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Short and Sweet: Freedom of Speech

Sometimes on Tuesdays I'm going to start doing a "short and sweet" column where I try to actually keep it under a paragraph. Here's the first one!

I know a lot of people have been saying this lately, and in many places, but I felt like making it clear on my blog after I got "yelled at" by a couple commenters on another site. Newsflash: in America, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences or freedom from judgement. You are technically allowed to say whatever idiotic, racist, homophobic, stupid thing that you want to say. But I have every right to point out that you're being idiotic, racist, homophobic, and stupid. I also have every right to change the way I react to you as a person (within boundaries) because of it. I can choose not to support a politician because I disagree with their opinions, so I can do the same for businesses and other people too. Most of the recent "controversies" that people have declared "free speech" issues are not in fact anything to do with free speech. So stop telling me I can't be mad at somebody because "free speech."

Winged Reviews: The Sea of Monsters!

Be sure to check out my latest review on Winged Reviews, The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Moonrise Kingdom

So, here's a confession for you: before this film I had never watched a Wes Anderson movie.

I know, I know. I've heard all about why he's amazing and heard plenty of lectures about why I should have picked up The Life Aquatic or The Royal Tennebaums, but to be honest nothing he's done before has really caught my eye and made me go "that, that looks like the kind of movie I'd appreciate spending two hours with."

I can't even quite put my finger on why, perhaps because I don't like quirky for the sake of quirky. Is Anderson like that? I don't know, but all the trailers and clips I've seen made his previous films feel that way, and so nothing really was compelling enough to bring me on board.

But the trailers for Moonrise Kingdom had a lot going for them, and I'll admit adding Bruce Willis to anything increases my desire to see it about 300%. Maybe it was that the cast just had too many actors I love, maybe it was that the kid's summer camp story was more interesting. Maybe the jokes were things I found funnier. Maybe the guy cutting the trailer was better at his job than the other guys.

For whatever reason, I decided I wanted to see it. And to be honest, it probably was the best way to get me to watch a movie of this particular subset/genre. While the adult actors whose names I recognized all did amazing jobs, I was actually most impressed by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the young couple who decides to run away together. Their performances might be the type to turn off some people, but there was an unnaturalness to their delivery that actually made them more likeable to me, and I think that they stole the show at every opportunity.

It didn't hurt that the characters had a lot of moments that reminded me of myself, or people I've known, or my own weird childhood running around reading fantasy books and pretending the world was different. It just had so many things that seemed to be out of the books I would read about scout camps (my own experiences with camp were quite different) and it was presented in a way that made me feel nostalgia for something I never actually experienced.

The story is weird, that is certainly true. On paper, you could write a synopsis and it actually would sound rather tame. I read the plot summary on Wikipedia just now and sure, everything it says is true. That is the action of what happened.

But Moonrise Kingdom isn't a movie that's about what happens. That's not really what's memorable about it at all. For one, it's one of those pieces that film students love because it's just so artistic. There's a very distinct feeling and theme to all of the visuals, and it's like every small detail was chosen with care. But also there's a slight absurdity to everything, the dialogue and the situations, that really define what the movie is.

I won't say that it's a film for everyone, I imagine it won't appeal to many mainstream audiences at all, because it is a bit odd, but it's a nice odd. People who want the plot to go from A to B to C and for things to be realistic aren't going to like it. But if you're willing to let it just let it be charming and beautiful and enjoy it for what it is, then it's well worth the time spent with it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Castle Season Five

Previous Castle Reviews:
Season One
Season Two
Season Three
Season Four
Heat Wave

There are going to be some MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, so if you have not seen at least through the end of Season Four then probably best to steer clear!

So, season five. This is actually a season I watched on television mostly as it aired, which was a different experience than binging on everything all at once. But I still didn't have to wait forever to get to the aftermath of the season four finale and Castle and Beckett finally admitting their feelings for one another.

Overall, I actually think that they handled that particular aspect well, because right off the bat in the opening episode of the season you see that the fact that they're romantically involved is not the most defining factor of their lives. Beckett is still a detective, and Castle is still her partner and their personalities don't change much either. It was a pretty refreshing change from nearly every other time this has played out on television, and I credit the four seasons of strong character development and very capable writers with pulling it off.

Honestly, the season opener was not my favorite. I was starting to get a little tired with how big the conspiracy surrounding Beckett's mother was getting. But at this point it finally reaches it's height, and Beckett comes to terms with it (pretty much) and I was thankful to see the show wrapping it up. It was starting to remind me of the mid-season two parters that always involve an insane plot that is only forgivable because of the acting involved, but those are the only times the writing really stretches past the sweet spot they've found and not always with good results.

Where the writing really DOES work is episodes like "Murder, He Wrote," which is silly as much as it is wonderful and "After Hours" which had a lot of good surprises. They manage to make a clip show have tension and excitement with "Still." And when "The Lives of Others" started, I was inwardly groaning at the intensity of the Rear Window send-up, but the resolution of the episode itself won me over completely, it was by far one of my favorites.

Of course, most people are going to love "The Final Frontier," where they investigate a murder at a science fiction convention and there are multiple Firefly jokes to be had. Jonathan Frakes (no stranger to genre TV himself obviously, but also an accomplished director) deserves quite a bit of praise for his work on the episode, and honestly it's Beckett's episode more than Castle's, and that was a nice change from the expected story. "Reality Star Struck" also impressed me, and not just because Gina Torres is always perfect. The way it brought out new aspects of Gates was especially welcome, I needed a reason to start liking her. The previously mentioned "Still" made me love her completely.

While Beckett and Castle's relationship doesn't really take center stage, the writers do a good job at making sure it's still an important part of their lives. Episodes like "Secret Santa" and "Significant Others" help to advance their story without bogging it down or making it too over the top romantic or really cheesy. I actually am really enjoying having a strong, realistic, and grown up relationship being portrayed on television. It's so much more rare than anybody realizes, but the writers aren't going for the typical tropes here, they're really working at building something that feels real.

Of course, mid season gets bogged down in not just returning to the large conspiracy of Senator Bracken (though "Recoil" ended up having a much better resolution that I ever could have expected, and brought out a lot of great character moments for Beckett) but there was also "Target" and "Hunt." Once again, the mid-season two parter was so over the top that it challenged my ability to deal with the premise of the show and just go along with the story. Usually, even when Castle follows a cliche as a show, I'm on board and cheering them along. But about fifteen times over the course of these two episodes I rolled my eyes and said "OF COURSE they have Alexis, OF COURSE she was the real target, OF COURSE Castle has some wacky kidnap negotiator contact in France..." and the bit reveal of the episode, as much as I found it a little heartwarming, got the biggest "OF COURSE" of them all. Maybe I'm just too worn out from all the convenience of story lines on Doctor Who, I just felt like it made Castle out to be so much less relatable than he was before.

The absolute highlight of the season is actually "The Wild Rover," which is a Ryan-centric episode. I knew Seamus Dever was a good actor, Ryan has been a particular favorite of mine since the beginning, I love the way he's the one that's always willing to buy whatever Castle is selling. But Dever knocks it out of the park in "The Wild Rover," when it's revealed that he previously spent time undercover in the Irish mob, and he has to go back in. I honestly can't come up with the right words to describe just how powerful and well done it is, and it means you'll never look at Ryan quite the same way again. Which is the highest praise I can give it.

Of course, the big story is the cliffhanger at the end, as always. To be honest, the "what will happen between Castle and Beckett" doesn't really concern me too much. It's that the writers put everything on the line, nearly every character we love is going to be affected by Beckett's decision, and I trust them wholeheartedly to do right by the audience, but I don't know what that means. It's the kind of ridiculously complicated situation that is just what life is about, and that everyone faces. Neither choice is completely right or completely wrong, and I cannot wait to see what will happen next season. I'm also more than a little bitter that I have to wait, but that's what I get for catching up to what's airing, huh?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Everybody needs a vacation

In the last week or so, I've seen about a half dozen friends and bloggers that I follow announce that they're stepping back from social media and the internet.

This is actually not long after I also announced that I was cutting back on a lot of my personal social media use. I unfriended and unfollowed a lot of people (especially celebrities and blogs that I don't personally know).

Why? Well, for one thing, the internet is exhausting. For somebody like me, it's especially so. If I follow a blog, I at least want to read the headlines for every post. If I follow somebody on Twitter, I want to see everything they say, not just the last ten posts whenever I open my timeline.

When I'm gone for a few days, I actually do my best to go through my entire tumblr dash. Sometimes it takes days just to do that, more time than I was away.

On top of that the culture and the attitude right now is also not very conducive to enlightening debates or enjoyable discourse. A lot of us came online in the first place to find people like us, people to talk to, hobbies to enjoy, things like that. Instead, the culture is shifting to where the bulk of the talk is either vile anon posting and insults or people being angrily offended about one thing or another. And I'll be clear, most of the time it's stuff that they have every right to be angry and offended about.

But it's still tiring. It's no longer energizing for a lot of people. A lot of the same people who came to the internet to find acceptance and love and a place where their voice would have value are getting shouted down and silenced and going away again. Today, it was Jen from Epbot, one of my favorite bloggers who I've gotten to meet in person at book signings twice. The one thing I can say about her without hesitation is that she is incredibly kind. Before the second book signing I went to, I wrote her an email in response to a post she made that I had found particularly inspiring and helpful. I don't normally do that kind of thing, but I spilled out the story of my life at the moment, not expecting anything in return, just wanting to say thanks.

And her reply was just as kind and heartfelt as the original post, and I was able to tell her thanks for that in person. Her husband is just as nice, and if anybody deserves to always see the best of the internet it's the two of them.

Another friend of mine has been talking today about trying to engage with people in the debate about convention harassment policies, spurred on by John Scalzi's new convention policy about harassment. I've been quite proud of him (my friend, but Scalzi deserves some praise too) for standing up against what has become a huge problem. But this debate has been bringing trolls and jerks out of the woodwork, and it's become again a very disheartening and exhausting situation to try to follow or be involved in.

I don't know what the answer is, or what should be done. I'm just sad that we've somehow managed to cultivate a culture that silences these nice and intelligent people because we're mirroring middle school too clearly or something. I still enjoy being online, I still like my social media sites and I still am reading quite a lot. But I wish that the spaces that people had carved out for themselves had stayed what they needed, instead of becoming the same old junk on a different day. I wish that people would follow the simplest rule of the world, just be nice and don't be a jerk.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Never Let Me Go

I read the book Never Let me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, many years ago when it was first released. I wasn't really familiar with Ishiguro, this was the first book of his that I had read. The thing that struck me about it was that beyond the plot or the characters, he was very adept at establishing a mood. There was a very distinct feeling that you got throughout the work, a longing and a sort of bittersweet wistfulness.

It wasn't long after I read it that it was announced the book was being adapted to the screen, and I had no doubt they could do justice by the story, the action in the film is relatively simple. There's actually not to many events, and so the challenges that filmmakers normally have fitting everything into the allotted time wouldn't be the real problem.

The real problem would be capturing the mood. Especially considering that the novel is told in first person from the point of view of Kathy (Carey Mulligan's character). First person stories are notoriously difficult because you aren't given the same insight into the characters. And it's really Kathy's state of mind that provides the emotions for the reader as they experience her life through her eyes and her memories.

The film uses one well worn technique for this - the voiceover. But Mulligan's performance and her voice are so strong that it works. The cinematography is beautiful, and everything truly does come together to really capture the same longing that you feel when reading the novel. To be honest, the plot of the film is not particularly memorable, and in some ways it's not even really that original. In a lesser filmmaker's hands, it wouldn't have worked. Just like a lesser novelist couldn't have pulled it off either. It's a rather typical love triangle with a science-fiction twist (in the novel it's less obvious until later, the movie spells it out very early on).

But the filmmakers made one very clever choice early on - the film never for a moment looks like science fiction. There is no sense of it being the future, in fact it has the look and feel of a period piece set maybe around the 1940's. That adds an air of nostalgia, a heaviness of history to it, that helps bring the audience right back to the subtlety of Kathy's mind.

It probably isn't a film that will appeal to everyone. The pace is quite slow, there is no real action and the conflict is very understated. It's a very internal film, and that isn't always going to be appealing. But it's a very skilled adaptation of the book, and the only fault I can find with it is that it reveals it's mysteries too early. The novel is one of the few instances where I believe people are better off knowing very little going into it, and that spoilers truly spoil part of the enjoyment. The movie doesn't have that problem, because the reveal is quick and painless and has little impact.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Castle Season Four

Previous Castle Reviews:
Season One
Season Two
Season Three
Heat Wave

Season three of Castle ends on one of the biggest cliffhangers I've ever seen. The kind of cliffhanger that would have made me intensely upset if I had seen it when it originally aired. Fans of Castle who had to live through that, I salute you.
The writers of Castle never fail to go where most shows might fear to tread, and true to form, Beckett's shooting at the end of season three, and Montgomery's death, are not events that are quickly wrapped up and glossed over. They have far reaching consequences that continue to affect the characters throughout the season. Beckett specifically has to confront her demons when a sniper begins terrorizing the city in "Kill Shot," midway through the season. At the end of the season, they find evidence that leads back to Montgomery and the man who attempted to kill her.

Which is getting ahead of the other thread of the season, the resolution of Castle's confession to Kate that he loves her, which she spends most of the season pretending to have forgotten in the trauma of almost dying. To be honest, a lot of what Castle says and does at this point makes me want to poke him and remind him that she's going through some pretty amazingly difficult situations here and he could maybe think a little less about himself. But as always, when it matters, he's there for her. And he usually doesn't wallow in his wounded feelings for very long, on other shows that stuff would get dragged out over multiple seasons. Castle usually mostly resolves things on his own in an episode or two.

During the mid-season two part episode, "Pandora" and "Linchpin," there is the once-a-season story that's hard to believe and really stretches credibility (an international conspiracy that involves a mole within the CIA and an agent that just happens to be Castle's former muse) but the episodes hint that a story about Castle's father will be on the horizon, now that we've wrapped up more of Beckett's mother's case.

The season also has quite a few top notch stand alone episodes. "The Blue Butterfly" is sort of a standard episode, almost every genre show ends up with a noir themed story sooner or later. But Fillion and Katic are very good at what they do, and as usual the writers don't forget to give Esposito and Ryan something fun as well.

"Heroes & Villains" takes on the homemade super hero movement, and "Eye of the Beholder" actually does a pretty brilliant take on the modern art world, which I love to poke fun at since I studied art history in college. "Cops & Robbers" also treads some familiar ground, as a pretty by the numbers "main characters are taken hostage in a bank robbery" story. It happens to everybody eventually (you would think, from watching American TV that there are a lot more hostage situations in daily life). But again, what this show does best is work with it's characters, and in the end it's about seeing THESE characters in this familiar situation.

One of my favorites was "Dial M for Mayor," where Castle and Beckett are again pitted against each other in an investigation, this time when Castle's friend - who happens to be the Mayor, is a suspect in the investigation. Beckett and Gates have a lot of great moments where you really get to see what drives them, and as I've said before, I wasn't sure how they could resolve this episode without somebody being wrong but the writer's resolve it beautifully, even though it's very bittersweet.

The season again ends with a cliffhanger, but this one is not the same kind of devastating moment as season three, so you can feel okay about not having season five ready to go afterwards. But you will want to get your hands on it pretty quickly.

International Geek Girl Pen Pal Club

A few months ago I found out about the International Geek Girl Pen Pal Club, a group that pairs geeky girls/women with other geeky girls/women who want to write letters.

As I've mentioned before, I love writing to other people and I wanted more steady pen pals. I love Postcrossing but that doesn't let you really get to know somebody.

I was paired with a pen pal, Jennifer, and today I got my first letter and package from her!

I love getting mail, and this was an awesome package. Especially because I collect E.T. merchandise, and I'd never even seen this keychain before, so I didn't even know I was missing it! It looks perfect on my shelf:

(This is actually only 1/3 of my collection, it's where the keychain looked best).

This is an awesome project, and I'm so thrilled to have found it. I encourage every geek girl to go over to the website and sign up for the next round, which always opens on the 15th of the month. There's also a lot of fun features on the site, where you can make your own page and post pictures of what you get from your pen pal. Their tumblr is full of cool stuff too.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Winged Reviews!


So, I'm thrilled to announce that I'm now working with my good friend Daphne as a full time reviewer at her website, Winged Reviews!

Winged Reviews is a blog focused on young adult fiction, which is one of my favorite genres. My first set of reviews is going to be of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. But you can read my intro post right now!

You might wonder what this means for this blog, and really the impact will be minimal. I've not been keeping to my schedule for the last few weeks because of a lot of stuff going on at home, but this month should mark a return to form:
Tuesdays: Opinion column
Wednesdays: Television review (either series or episodes, depending on what I'm watching at the time)
Thursdays: Movie review (classic films and new releases)

The only difference is I may not post a new book review every month like the previous schedule, I may direct you back to Winged Reviews for those or if I've read a book that doesn't fit there I might review it here. It'll be a bonus instead of a scheduled feature. That part I'm just going to play by ear until I find the right pattern.

But for now, you should be over at Winged Reviews checking it out!